Thursday, 26 April 2012

My Week With Marilyn, Simon Curtis, UK/ US 2011

My Week With Marilyn is a vain effort, I'm afraid; a film that would have been better left unfilmed. It's not that it's a particularly bad film, no, it simply isn't one that benefits anyone, neither the viewer, nor the participants, nor its subject, one of (film-)history's greatest legends, and one of the most talked about, photographed, and fatally misunderstood women of all time.

My Week With Marilyn is based on the book by Colin Clark, who collaborated with Monroe on her UK adventure, The Prince and the Showgirl back in 1957. As always with personal accounts such as memoirs and autobiographies, they have to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially when they've been written decades after the fact. Again, this doesn't automatically make them bad reading material. After all, there are many reasons why one may choose to read a book, any book, biographies and memoirs included, and factual accuracy is but one of them. The same, by the way, goes for movies, too. A movie which is based on a particular event in history may be enjoyed for all sorts of reasons other than its historical accuracy. After all, cinematography, dialogue, acting, costumes, and so on, contribute a great deal to the finished product.

However, I'm afraid to say that My Week With Marilyn has little to offer in that respect as the film's production values are average at best. Moreover, its title already bears so much promise and anticipation - my week with Marilyn - that really, that is what the viewer expects. But there's not much there, either. At least for those who are remotely familiar with the life of the famous lady in question as her life, moves, antics, ups and downs, and so on, are probably better documented than that of any other movie star. Put differently, whether the budding love story between Monroe and Clark happened such as it is portrayed in the movie is something I don't know, of course. Nevertheless, the way it is portrayed is uninspired, though, to be fair, I'm not sure if given its subject-matter, there would have been a better, more adequate, way to tackle it.

Michelle Williams has the thankless task of portraying the most famous woman in motion picture history, one whose image, looks, and so on, have become part of our collective memory. But besides the sheer impossibility of doing justice to the person in question - as well as to our image of her - impersonating Monroe is a particularly tricky undertaking for she had what some claim amounted to a love affair between herself and the camera. Directors who worked with Monroe spoke of a 'frightened girl, terrified to go in front of the camera', 'a relatively plain beauty', 'a good actress, and a much better comedienne' - never mind that she was much underrated, and more often than not, typecast as the dumb blonde - in other words, nothing about Monroe was all that different from other actresses, let alone hinted at the phenomenon that she'd go on to outshine any of her colleagues, past and present.

Yet, in the transformation from celluloid to screen something happened. A transformation in Monroe. Suddenly there was magic. She radiated, illuminated, the screen. She had presence -  in a way that is extremely rare, even among the greatest of actresses. Thus, for any actress attempting to live up to that is a challenge, to say the least, and even one as talented as Williams must have known what she's up against.

This is exemplified at the film's beginning, though I'm sure  inadvertently so, when we witness Colin watching a contemporary screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At first, we only hear music of what we instantly recognise to be the first bars of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend. Colin seems mesmerised, and so are we, until the camera pans from Colin's face to the screen  and we realise that he's in fact watching Williams playing Monroe rather than Monroe herself. My jaw dropped instantly, and I cannot believe the director didn't know that this was the effect this scene was going to provoke in any viewer who's ever seen Monroe on screen - which means practically everybody - especially in that particular scene! Why Curtis didn't simply keep the camera on Colin's mesmerised face in a long take close-up, capturing his emotions while watching Monroe, leaving the rest up to the viewer's imagination, is anybody's guess. This clumsiness by the director is one of the gravest flaws in the film for looking at Williams doing Monroe's signature number it remains unfathomable to the viewer why Colin  should be mesmerised. But this obviously is precisely what this scene was supposed to establish, for the whole premise of My Week With Marilyn hinges on Colin's infatuation with Marilyn, on his being caught in the rapture of her magic. Alas, what we see is bereft of any magic whatsoever. And if we're unable to believe him, relate to him - the whole film falls apart.

Though Miss Williams undeniably is one of the best actresses of her generation - live up to Monroe she doesn't. Can't.

Having not read Clark's book, I'm of course unable to judge it. The film, though, is neither good nor is it particularly bad. It simply is one that is forgotten the minute you leave the theatre. And that is about the worst thing you can say about any film.